Monday, October 20, 2008

The "IB Effect"

Looking forward to my future beyond college, I think it's important to remember the things that got me to my first day as a scared freshman at William and Mary. I want to define the things I've learned, and the things I've accomplished so that I may be better prepared to use those learning experiences in the future both in job interviews and at jobs, in new relationships and in life.

In high school, I was a hard-working student. Until my junior year, however, my focus was not on receiving that perfect A+ (although they mattered to me, grades were never something I allowed myself to stress out over), but on obtaining as much knowledge as I possibly could. I grew up in a wealthy area; wealthy not only in the material success of my family and those around me, but Fairfax, Virginia has a wealth of resources. The people who live there are successful and knowledgeable. I had great teachers. My goal through high school was to make the most of the resources that had been put before me. I was curious about life, and overwhelmed with the uncertainty of what I'd do with mine. I used the skills that I had developed up until that time, and I talked to teachers and students around me. I talked with counselors and my friends' parents about their lives and how and why they'd gotten to where they were. I absorbed everything I could. I learned to listen.

By the end of my sophomore year, I still didn't have a clue what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that I wanted to go to college, and that doing so would afford me a little more time to think about it and continue my "research". In trying to leave as many options open as I possibly could, I decided to challenge myself by entering the IB program. I wanted to make myself the best candidate as a college freshman when the time came to apply to schools, so I took on a heavy workload. Entering the IB diploma program was one of the best decisions I think I've ever made. I truly challenged myself. I learned a lot. In comparison with the AP classes I took alongside IB, these classes were designed to increase cultural awareness, to teach critical thinking, build study skills, and most importantly, to make high school students extremely aware of the world that exists outside of their close clique of friends, the walls of their high schools, their town, their country, their continent, even outside of their planet, or universe. When you're 17 or 18 years old, it's hard to rationally think past Friday night. IB teaches students to realize that they can make positive, long-term changes in their communities and in their world. In order to receive an IB diploma upon graduation, students must have completed 150 hours of community service, and written about the personal effect each hour had upon them. Playing the piano for a local assisted living community brought joy both to the residents there and to me. Working to help clean the grounds of my elementary school made me appreciate the time I spent there and my youth. Painting murals on the walls of an area pre-school brought me closer with a colleague and put a smile on my face to see the enjoyment the children who attended school there got from my work. Weeding the gardens at a church near my home made me aware of the diversity that lies within religion and the love and hope that is constantly surrounding us. Without hesitation, I can say that the most valuable of the hours that I put into my IB diploma came from CAS hours, and specifically those devoted to counseling at vacation bible school. Most of the people I worked alongside in the program were complete strangers when I began. I learned about their characters, about their lives, about their passions, and I shared mine with them. I was surrounded by children, and though it's cliche and said far too often, it remains the truth: "kids say the darndest things." Although I've never been very religious, the experience of completing my CAS hours made me a more spiritual person and fed the flame of religious curiosity that I'd already had.

In addition to CAS hours, IB required that I complete an "extended essay", in my "spare time" on a subject of my choosing. The process of writing the paper was to be guided by an advisor, also of my choosing, preferably within the most relevant department for the subject of my essay. The subject of my paper was The Effect of Protest Music During the Vietnam War, and I "carefully" selected my teacher of IB Math Studies as my advisor. Maybe it wasn't the best selection of an advisor, but since I was already close with all the music teachers in the state (or so it had sometimes seemed), and with my history teacher, I chose to make this an opportunity to discover something new about the teacher of a subject which I knew would never be my favorite. While learning about the Vietnam War and the impact of Crosby, Stills and Nash's political activism, I learned that math teachers can have interesting lives, even if their passion for their subject cannot be transferred unto me. I learned that what I choose to do right when I finish school may not be the path that I will continue on for the rest of my life. I learned that everything I learned throughout my life could be a potential conversation piece. I learned that the challenges that I had chosen for myself were merely stepping stones to the next challenge I would take. I learned that a career was not the destination I sought out, but the means to live a contented life, and another challenging stepping stone to take me to my next challenge.

I've never been more stressed out about an exam since my final IB exams. Even once I reached college, exams were never so daunting as at the end of my high school career. It makes such a difference to know your grader, to have a personal relationship with the teacher who will be reading and evaluating your thoughts on what you've learned. IB does not afford its students that luxury. All IB exams (both written and oral) are mailed away for grading, often to other countries, mostly to ensure fairness among students. After working so hard and stressing out way too much, it's agonizing to wait for those scores to be sent home. It's also incredibly gratifying to receive the scores and to know that you earned every point, and that there was no bias because a grader may have or have not "liked" you. I learned to be patient. I learned that to achieve great and gratifying things, I needed to work hard, and that by working hard, the pay off would be that much sweeter.

When people ask me why I chose to do IB versus AP, I cannot answer for my 16-year old self, who was the actual decider of that action. All I can respond is that if I could, I would never go back and re-do it, substituting AP for IB. The program was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life thus far. I worked hard, and although I suffered sometimes because of it, I also grew through that suffering. They say, "what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." I don't know if this is true always, but in this case, it most definitely is true. It was tough, but it didn't kill me, and I am a stronger, more mature, well-educated 21-year old today because of it. That's the "IB Effect".

Monday, August 11, 2008

Refrigerator Toss Day = Friday, August 15, 2008

It's my last week here as a summer intern for Updata Advisors. Looking back on the experience, I have both fond memories and some things that I wouldn't mind forgetting, but probably never will. It's been a learning experience from day 1.

I came into this job without knowing what I would be doing, or even what the rest of the people here do. Totally in the dark, my goal was simply to get out of my neighbor's basement, where I had been working as an executive assistant for her home appraisal company. The job was a lonely one, which is not something I handle well. I sat in Diane's basement, day in and day out, alphabetizing, answering phones, and playing with her arthritic golden retriever. I was paid well, but spending so much time alone was driving me to insanity, and that's a short trip. So, when I received the call from Chase, informing me that he'd received my resume and would like to have me come in for an interview, I jumped on the opportunity. I saw this as a chance to get out of the basement, be around people in an office environment, learn about a business that I knew next to nothing about, and pick up some skills along the way, as well as work on some networking that might potentially help me out once I graduated from college with not much of a clue what I'd do with my Philosophy BA degree.

My first day at Updata was a bit unsettling, to be honest. Karen introduced me to everyone in the office, and got me set up at my desk. Then, she left me to "work". Only, I had not been given any work to do. I sat, and sat, and walked around, asking people if they needed help with anything, or if they knew what I was supposed to be doing. I went back to my desk, surfed the web a bit, read I had never had a job before where I was being paid hourly, and allowed to sit around doing nothing on the company's watch. I didn't know what to do with myself. Normally a fairly productive person, I had a hard time dealing with the fact that there was no task for me to complete there, and no way I could think of to be productive doing something else while I sat at this new desk in front of this new computer in Reston, VA. I gradually began to accept that sitting there doing nothing was better than sitting in the basement alphabetizing with the dog.

I read everything I could find on the web. I became an avid blog reader. I found Fake Steve and McSweeney's. I was entertained and I was learning at the same time. Before my final year of high school, I had begun my own blog, as a way to share photos with friends and family (before Facebook added that feature). The "real world" of blogging was opened up to me, as I began to explore what other people had done with theirs.

In my first week at Updata, I had learned a lot, though nothing really about how Updata Advisors operates on a daily basis, or what I'd be doing for the next two months with the company. When I was finally given my assignment for the summer, Chase called me into his office to describe what he seemed to think was a horribly tedious task which he was damned glad was not his to complete. I kept an open mind and began to make my way through a list of about 10,000 technology companies to find potential clients for the bankers to make cold calls to. I went to every company's website, read about them, was redirected to different pages, led down different paths, and ended up learning about the company I was meant to be looking into and a lot of other things as well. It's what I like to call "the Youtube effect": Have you ever searched for something on Youtube, watched a video, and then been led through a series of other "related" videos until you're watching something that has nothing at all to do with your original search? My research at Updata was very much like that, during my first summer with the company. I'd start with the company's website, read a little about what they do, what they're selling, run into an acronym I didn't know the meaning of, Google that, see a search result that looked interesting, go there, read about that a bit, go back to the company's site; and on and on this would go. Don't get me wrong, this didn't happen for every search. In fact, it didn't happen for the majority of the ~10,000 companies. If it had, I never would've gotten through the list. But the amount of information (some might call "useless") that I picked up while surfing and researching the companies is just huge.
The point is, I suppose, that what Chase perceived as a really icky, tedious, and time-consuming project, was, for me, a fascinating window into a world of companies that made things or provided services that I didn't know existed.

Occasionally, this task of building a list of descriptions for the companies on the list was a bit slow, and yes, tedious. But the monotony was often broken by a somewhat more "creative" task, assigned by one of the analysts at the bank, usually Akshay, who had me helping out with the occasional pitch book here and there. Or, sometimes I'd be called in to a meeting on the "Partners' side" of the company to get a peek at how Venture Capital works.

The office environment and relationships between employees at Updata are amusing, to say the least, and it seems that as time goes on, the "quirky-ness" of the place grows exponentially.
I guess that means I'm getting quirkier as well.

Last summer, I sat at my desk facing Amber, real-deal California girl who somehow landed with Updata Partners in Reston, VA, graduate of UVA-Darden business school, sexy, confident, vivacious, kick-ass woman who's got places to go, people to see, and a party to attend somewhere, I'm sure. Amber kept me awake at my desk when things were slow, brought me flowers one day, and recommended to me one of the best "how to" books I've ever read: The Manual. Amber has since left Updata to pursue whatever she'll kick ass at next. I miss her spunky attitude and bright personality. It's much easier to fall into a spacey zoned-out glare into my computer screen without her around.

Akshay was in an office next door to my desk (before he moved on from Updata), with a notable slinky on his desk, which I could hear slinking away throughout the day, as he toyed with it while he worked (there is still a slinky in his old office - now Andrew's office -. Was it left here or do all bankers carry around slinkies, I wonder). I never realized until I worked here how much I really love that sound. Sometimes when I meet new people, I ask them what their three favorite sounds are...I think I may add that one to my personal list of favorite sounds.
Akshay is a fun-loving kind of guy, who used to eat Twizzlers, until I showed up to work and made the mistake of telling him they are made of wax.* Now he's doing his own thing/vacationing to make up for the lack thereof in his 2+ years at Updata, and waiting for me to buy him a Jack Splash at our next meeting. Of all the people I've met and worked with at Updata, I think I've learned the most about what investment banking is really about from him. He always gives me a straight answer, and I never suspect him of lying to me to try to make his chosen profession seem like more fun than it was.

This summer, Amber is gone, and my desk has moved down the hall. Directly across from me is the personal office of a man who has requested to be referred to in this posting as "Cash". "Cash" is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, cheese curd enthusiast, "I have a new favorite song every week"-kind of person. "Cash" can be found on a next-to-daily basis slapping his keyboard, stomping his feet and yelling profanity at ECAP, our online server here, which frequently shuts down for no reason and with no warning, breaking the "flow" of his particularly efficient Microsoft Excel spreadsheet-ing skills. Often, this leads to the slamming of his office door, so that he can more discreetly (I think) slam on his keyboard some more, before asking Jaine or Karen to call and yell at Network Alliance employees for cramping his Excel-ing style. "Cash" started the tradition known fondly here as "Wegman's Wednesdays," a weekly lunch break taken to Wegman's grocery store to get a few of us out of the office and talking about something other than numbers. "Wegman's Wednesdays" made the mid-week hour commute to Reston a bit more bearable since I had a great lunch to look forward to. Props to you, "Cash" for inventing that one. "Cash" is a good guy, as far as I can tell from the experiences I've had with him here, and the profanity coming from his direction is amusing for me and Karen, if it serves no other function.

Karen sits at the desk beside me. Once a cheerleader for her high school, Karen has a lot of pep in her step and in her speech. She lives out in Leesburg farmland (where I house/dog-sat for her one weekend - see: "Some Days You're the Bug...")
Out in farmland, as I learned while staying for a long weekend, there is not much to do, so Karen and her husband, Chris, spend a lot of their time fixing up their house, falling into new projects, adding a deck, tiling their kitchen, etc. when they aren't working. Thus, when Karen is working, I get to hear all about it. Her husband, her dogs and her house make up her universe outside of Updata, and as her "cubicle-mate", I am her outlet to tell all of this to. I see paint samples, I see architectural designs, pictures of her three dogs, and everything else you can imagine having to do with life in BFE (just replace the E - Egypt - with an L - Leesburg-). It's thrilling on a daily basis. Plus, there's always the delightful "Refrigerator Toss Day" alerts we receive every Friday from Karen to give us a head's up that she's about to throw out our old stuff in the Updata fridge.

Rumbi arrived as an analyst at Updata shortly after I did last summer. She is from Zimbabwe, where all of her family still resides. She tells fascinating stories about life there, which lately has been pretty horrible, with the political mess that is currently there. Rumbi is a runner and a home-grown vegetable kind of girl. From my desk, I sometimes hear her speaking in Shona (I think is the language) on her cell-phone, which has a popular hip-hop song set as her ringtone. She has strong opinions of men, as a gender, and makes them well-known in an industry which is mostly made up of men. As I learned last year from Rumbi, "All men are pigs," followed by an in-depth analysis of how they are so, as a gender, and how we, as women, cannot escape it.

Dave's office is beside "Cash's". Dave is a baseball fan, married, all around nice guy. He is easy and enjoyable to work with/for, since he is always sincerely appreciative of whatever I do to help him out, and good at giving clear and concise directions for what he needs. He is somewhat quiet, but not anti-social, and hardworking.

Andrew is "the new guy". I don't know much about him really, other than what I've gathered from our short outings every Wednesday to Wegmans for lunch. He has his dry cleaning done down Freedom Drive, in walking distance of the office. He drinks "extreme" Starbucks coffee, and reads non-fiction books, informing himself and others that 10% of children are not raised by their actual fathers. Andrew's roommate is a communist, from what I hear.

Jeff is the other intern. He's on the exec board of his fraternity and constantly on his blackberry, for reasons unknown to me. He takes the metro into work from U of Maryland, where he is a rising senior. He plays "Brick Breaker" (on his blackberry) during his commute. On Wegman's Wednesdays, we often hear about his weekend plans to go to a club in D.C. or NYC.

Robin is the marketing director for Partners side of the company. She has tons of energy, and contagious smiles to go around...and an awesome wardrobe. She'll soon be leaving Updata to do her own thing, so her time at the office here has been limited this summer, but I've enjoyed the time that I've gotten to spend with her here, and have found her to be a great source for "future" advice.

Heather is the EA for a bunch of the Updata Partners guys. She is a runner, hiker, outdoor enthusiast, environmentally friendly, triathlon-training girl. She sends everyone in the office emails telling us to remember to recycle our granola bar wrappers and to clean the rings off the inside of our coffee cups before we put them in the dishwasher. Heather also enjoys updating the dry-erase calendar next to Karen's desk, and writes in unimportant events, after the fact, like, "Blackout for 6 hours" or "Big thunderstorm" on the days that they occurred.

These are the people I've interacted with daily (or nearly so) at Updata.

In the 6 months (combined) that I've worked here, I have really gotten a feel for what investment banking is all about. I've learned a lot of "useless" information that may come in handy during a future game of Trivial Pursuit, but that I will otherwise likely never use. I've learned a lot of "useful" information that will come in handy as I move on from full-time student to full-time employee, and perhaps one day to "boss".

Overall, it's been a great experience, I've met some really interesting people, and I've been exposed to a lot of new.

Thanks to all those who have helped me along here at Updata, shared their lives with me, and maybe a tequila shot or two...

*After looking into it, at Akshay's request, I have found that there is no wax in the ingredients list on Twizzlers packaging. However, due to the texture, appearance and taste of the "candy," I still have reason to suspect otherwise.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Baseball Reveries

"Back then, my idol was Bugs Bunny, because I saw a cartoon of him playing ball - you know, the one where he plays every position himself with nobody else on the field but him? Now that I think of it, Bugs is still my idol. You have to love a ballplayer like that." ~Nomar Garciaparra

Manny = big pain in the ass for just about everyone involved... I was so close to escaping involvement, too. Poor Joe Torre. It'll be interesting to see how he handles the high-maintenance handful as time goes by and Manny gets bored with LA.

A-Rod = family man? uhhh, no, no, not really.

Derek Jeter = still beautiful; still "my husband".

Girardi = Optimistic for the rest of us spooked by baseball curses of old and those yet to befall on us. Gotta love him for that.

The Anaheim Angels - wtf? These are the ANAHEIM ANGELS...I'm confused. Remember that really bad movie about how they lose all the time? ...yeeaaaahhh, so, anyway....

Joba - you're killin' me Smalls!

David Ortiz - I still hate you.

My Dear Jorge = will be missed by many (that's "many", not Manny; Manny doesn't care about anyone but himself), including myself.

Placido Polanco - If you took all the vowels out of his full-name, his first and last names would be ridiculously similar.

Molina - I'm totally impressed. Never thought you had it in you.

Xavier Nady - Ok, I can deal.

Mets...freakin' Mets. I have nothing to say about the Mets.

A final thought = If I have to hear about another addition to the DL, I will surely hurl breakable objects at my television/computer screen. Are players getting wimpier as time goes by? Keep it together, guys! It's only August!

Friday, July 25, 2008

"There is no reciprocity. Men love women, women love children, children love hamsters." -Alice Thomas Ellis

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Eucalyptus and Harmony

Liz let me borrow her "Eucalyptus and Harmony"-scented Febreze. My first reaction: What does "Harmony" smell like?

Just because it's a noun doesn't mean it smells like anything. It's not like "meatloaf", or "fresh baked cookies", or..."eucalyptus". Harmony is not a scent. Some genius in the marketing department over at Febreze decided that if they put the word 'harmony' on their packaging, it would draw stressed-out Americans in. What perhaps they didn't realize, though, was that they might sell more Febreze with the scent 'harmony' just because curious minds want to know what in God's name 'harmony' actually smells like.

When I'm at the grocery store, looking for cereal, or Febreze, or whatever else, I tend to get easily overwhelmed. Yes, the grocery store can be a source of stress for me. There are so many options for basically the same thing. How do you choose? They all have similar, if not equal, prices, ingredients, etc. But, there are about 400 options for breakfast cereals. Not so many on the Febreze isle, but still. There's lots of variety there, in size and shape of container, as well as about 30 different scents to choose from. So, if I'm walking down the Febreze isle, and staring (as I do) for a few minutes at the array of choices before me, which one am I going to pick? Here's the process I can picture myself taking (as I've done it many times before -- usually without 'harmony'):

I read each individual scent name, and imagine what that might smell like, and how it will change the atmosphere and aroma of my living space, which will soon be receiving a dousing of the stuff. As I'm scanning, I get to "Eucalyptus and Harmony". I stop. I shift my stance. I put a hand to my head, and I think aloud, "What the hell does 'harmony' smell like?!" A customer down the isle (who is equally indecisive and has been staring down the hand soap section for a while) overhears my distressed conversation with the Febreze section and walks over. He picks up the Febreze in question, reads the label, and says to me, "That's bizarre. I didn't think 'harmony' smelled like anything!" Now, I start thinking to myself, so it's not just me. This guy has never smelled 'harmony' before either. Maybe what we think we have experienced as 'harmony' really isn't 'harmony'. Maybe what we thought we were experiencing as harmony is something else entirely, and 'true harmony' has a pleasant and potent smell! The only way to truly know what my life will be like once it smells of 'harmony'? Buy the product! Spritz it in my bedroom, in my living room, kitchen and anywhere else I want to feel 'harmonious'! Rinse and repeat.

It's truly baffling how easy I am for marketing execs to get "into bed with", for lack of a better phrase at this moment. This has got to say something about my personality, right? I am indecisive, yet adventurous; willing to try new things; curious; open-minded,...easily persuaded. Just from that one trip to the Febreze isle in the grocery store, I've learned so much about my own personality. Those guys over at Febreze are good....real good.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"I've changed my mind about them...I don't think they're going to be historically bad anymore."

...says an AL executive about the Baltimore Orioles, during an interview on "The Colbert Report".

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Another year, another MKS, Inc. I/O Kick-off Event at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD.
This year, I brought along "The Nicks" (later to be accidentally - in a drunken outburst, or maybe not - changed to "The Dicks") - Nick Haynor and Nick "Kittens" Smith came along to keep me company and enjoy the day with me and my dad and employees of the InterOperability division of MKS. We boarded the bus at about 12 o'clock in the afternoon to head up to Baltimore's gorgeous inner harbor for lunch and to hang out until the game, which began at 7:05 that evening. The bus ride included two coolers full of cold sodas, water and beer, a cardboard box full of individual packages of chips, and 20 soon-to-be-rowdy, excited to have the day off work employees of my dad, my dad, myself, "the Nicks", and Caitlin (GMU student, daughter of Rick - friend and co-worker of Dad).

When we arrived at the inner harbor, the four of us (myself, Caitlin, and "the Nicks") strolled around a bit along the water, siked ourselves up to get a dragon-shaped paddleboat after lunch to spend our afternoon in, and found our way to the M&S Grill for lunch with the MKS crew. After a delicious, yet hot, outdoor lunch with friendly conversation going around the table, we headed out to fetch our dragon boat. When we got to the boathouse, we read the disappointing news: Dragon boats, 3 Adults, 1 Child max. Seeing as how there were 4 of us adults, we skipped the dragon boat and headed for ESPN Zone, where we'd hang for the majority of our down-time prior to the game.

We bought a card to play games with, and Nick and I left Kittens and Caitlin at the air hockey table to go find some beer. When we had finally navigated past the 3 closed bars to find the only one that was open, we learned that they had a very nice beer selection. We each ordered a 25 oz. mug of Magic Hat #9, and headed proudly back upstairs, with our heavy, 6 lb glass mugs of beer. Kittens and Caitlin had strayed from the air hockey table, so we had to search for them a little. We played all sorts of games, from the wave-runner (4-person) race to virtual ping-pong, to hockey, to white water rafting, to basketball. When we'd run out of points on the card (used to play the games), we moved to the bar to finish those beers, and on to the next activity.

We didn't have much time left before our suite opened at the stadium, so we walked across the street to do some shopping, and in the meantime, got assaulted by an "almost homeless" couple. They asked us to buy them a soda and sandwich to share from the McDonald's around the corner. We walked and talked with them for a while, and then realizing that there was no McDonald's in sight, I gave them $8 and said "good luck".
We did our shopping at Filene's Basement and headed back towards the harbor to meet up with Rick and Wendy, to walk to the stadium.

The Orioles played the Detroit Tigers at 7:05. We got to the suite at about 5:45, and watched the Tigers warm up, much to Kittens' delight (he is a big Detroit fan). The suite was packed with appetizers and drinks when we got there, later to be replaced by a buffet dinner including crabcakes, sliders, and shrimp (which weren't discovered until we were leaving). In the box to the right of us, there was a group of people (probably in their 30s) who dared their friend Dave to walk down through the stands to an older (as in 70's or 80's maybe) woman who was sitting alone and keeping score. When he went down and starting talking to her, Dave's friends in the suite beside us began heckling: "Gimme a D - D!, Gimme an A - A!, Gimme a V - V!, Gimme an E- E! What's that spell? Dave!" Dave won the bet...I think. The team's mascot, Oriole bird made an appearance in the next box over; the box with Dave and his friends. It was a great game which ended poorly for the O's, as the Tigers took the lead in the 6th and the Orioles just couldn't make it back. Final score 6-5, Detroit. Towards the end of the game, in a nice touch, a tray of chocolates was brought to our seats to give us a sweet ending to our meal and day.

We boarded the bus again post game, to head back to the office, and the Hyatt hotel, where Wendy was having a slumber party in her room for all the girls at the game. The Nicks and I went home.

It was a great day, a fun escape from the monotony of the middle of the week, and a good opportunity to catch up with old friends and new.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

(Unintentionally) Crashing an Engagement Party

After much debate about which "light-eating" type restaurant we would be patrons of Sunday evening, Andrew and I ended up at Star Thai in Fair Lakes for dinner. **Note: not as "light" as we'd planned** What we didn't realize until we walked through the doors and were greeted by super-friendly Asians was that we had just stumbled into "cute-white-guy" Brian's and "didn't-catch-her-name-Thai-girl"'s engagement party, and that we were the only others (outside the wedding party) who would be dining there that night. In addition to the crowd of Thai people and Brian, there was a live musician (also Thai) performing American love songs of the 70s, 80s and 90s...and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," to his "fake-back-up band" synthesizer which was blasting out of an amplifier at his feet.

The place was quite a scene. As Andrew put it, "This is like 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding', except more like 'My Little Skinny Thai Wedding'." The Thais were showing off engagement gifts and taking photos of every second so that later in life they could forget they'd ever taken them. Brian looked overwhelmed and a bit terrified. Inevitably, his fiancee would be recapping, in a frame-by-frame account, the night for him on their drive home and probably continue once they had arrived home that evening. Andrew and I recapped the brief piece of what we'd seen of it on our drive home, and it didn't make for bad dinner conversation either.

This morning, I woke up with Rod Stewart's "Have I Told You Lately" stuck in my head, playing like a broken record in my mind. Only, all I could picture was that little Thai man from the night before belting it into the microphone in English-with-a-Thai-accent, while his "band" played back-up. I'll never be able to hear it the same way again.

Monday, July 14, 2008



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Mamihlapinatapai (sometimes spelled mamihlapinatapei) is a word from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the "most succinct word", and is considered one of the hardest words to translate.

It describes a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that both desire but which neither one wants to start. This could perhaps be translated more succinctly as "eye-contact implying 'after you...'". A more literal approximation is "ending up mutually at a loss as to what to do about each other".

The word consists of prefix ma(m)- reflexive/passive (second m before roots beginning with a vowel), root ihlapi (hl pronounced as /ɬ/, though in Yahgan it has also been described as similar to sl) which means to be at a loss as to what to do next, followed by stative suffix -n- and achievement suffix -at(a), and finally dual -apai, which in composition with ma(m)- has a reciprocal sense.


This is why I love language.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Road Rage by Radio

Have you ever listened to a song and felt as though the singer were singing about recent events in your life, or exactly how you feel, like you can relate to what they're saying at that moment perfectly?

This morning, during my commute, the song "Natural Woman" came on the radio, and I was listening, and I mean really listening to what Aretha Franklin was saying through her song. It was drizzling a little outside when the song began,

Looking out on the morning rain,
I used to feel so uninspired.
And when I knew I had to face another day,
Lord, it made me feel so tired.

So far, she's captured my precise mood. This is the point where I start singing along.

Before the day I met you,
Life was so unkind,
But you're the key to my peace of mind,
Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like a natural woman!

By this point, I'm so completely absorbed in the song and my own singing that I have no clue who "you" are that makes me (or Aretha) feel like a natural woman, but damn it, I do. And I feel great!

When the song ends, the DJ starts talking about the history of something or other, and then about the weather, and then, with no warning whatsoever, he breaks that beautiful moment of zen that is running through this natural woman when he hits me with the next song on his playlist: "She Hates Me" by Puddle of Mudd.

Now, nothing against Puddle of Mudd, and nothing against the song (it happens to be one of my favorites, if I'm in the right mind-set), but come ON.
I should become a disk jockey. I could take the position at that radio station after Mr. "Good-Mood-Killer" gets laid off for making happy people feel like shit. And then I could devote my life's work to NOT destroying normal peoples' lives by killing the incredible vibes they get from good, happy, inspirational, life-changing music which is only so because I've played it through radio waves for them to hear as they sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic in their own personal "American Idol" audition room, where they're their own judge and they're moving on to Hollywood!

On the other side of my driver's side window, inside that blue Prius, there was probably a man glaring at my gas-guzzling SUV, judging me for killing "his" precious environment before reminding himself that it's ok, because he's voting for Barack Obama, and that once Obama wins, global warming and all of our country's environmental and economic problems will somehow magically disappear. That guy; that angry, disillusioned Democrat in his little hybrid vehicle, which despite the fact that he thinks is helping the environment, it's still doing the same thing that my big ass SUV is (just on a smaller scale); I'll bet he was pretty siked when "She Hates Me" started playing. I'll bet he was singing along by the third line, and shooting me glares while he screamed at the windows between he and I, "She fucking hates me!"

And you know what? He's absolutely right. I do. So thanks, Mr. "Good-Mood-Killer" DJ guy. You've just sparked a bit of road rage, which although not acted upon, could've ended badly if I were a pure Republican with a shotgun on my passenger seat.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Playing Black and White

College Essay (Sept 2004)

The warm rays from the spotlight are filtering down through the dust particles to brush my right arm, cheek and ear. I can feel the suddenness of the pupil of my right eye contracting when the bright light reaches it. Room quiet, heart pulsing, and adrenaline rushing, my hands float up toward the black lacquer encased instrument. My arms tense as I bravely take the upbeat and bring my hands down violently to make my first note. The audience shudders at the unexpected burst of sound coming from the stage. My fingers dance over the black and white ivory keys, taking unexpected turns and leaping over one another. They play this game each time I sit on this flat black bench; a race to the finish. Pulling my entire body with them, my hands run up and down the eighty-eight keys to hammer the strings, which only I can see clearly. My heart beats out the tempo of the music, giving my foot no need to tap. Instead, it takes a different path from beneath the bench, emphasizing the importance of certain sounds.

With each sound, the notes become sensory memories evoked within me and my audience. A series of chords come crashing down the keyboard and flash a brief vision of my mother’s near fatal brain aneurism, when, as the chords, my life came crashing down around me. My mind flickers to times of hope, prayer and family unity that I experienced during those four long months and my eyes tear up. Each audience member has his own memoir which comes to mind at one particular sound that my hands methodically and rhythmically create.

The music continues to move forward, and although my hands never slow down, the violent thrusts with which my body moved before have become gentle, gliding phrases of soft, peaceful melodies and harmonies. Again, a memory is awakened. I am lying on my back in the grass, just as the sun has fallen from the sky. Staring up at the infinite number of stars in the universe, this easy feeling rushes through me as the faithful canine friend beside me has fallen asleep. I close my eyes and breathe in deeply, taking in the aroma of fresh cut grass and pollen of springtime. When I open my eyes again, the smell dissipates, and I am back in the spotlight, dancing for the entire world to see on my stage.

Suddenly, the tone changes again, and my left hand leaps blindly, risking hitting a wrong note, but sets down firmly upon the correct keys. The many hours of practice spent at this very spot have prepared me for that leap today. My mind wanders to my short-lived career as a campaign manager for a friend who was running for secretary of the student government at my elementary school. Instead of a speech, I wrote a song about her, and sang it a capella in front of the entire student body. As I return to the piano, my stomach muscles remain tense from reliving that nervousness, and the corners of my mouth creep up towards my eyes at the fond memory. The audience feels the nervous shock of it, as the piece draws to a close. My hands roll off of the keys one last time in a circular motion. Silence begins to steal back into the room as my hands descend into my lap, but the audience tries to catch the sounds before they wisp away like a thin fog. In a moment, the room is on its feet, hands waving in the air, and a resounding “thanks” is given from the applause which responds to my performance.

I stand up, and my black dress slinks down as it hangs from my shoulders towards my feet, the folds changing direction. I slowly move one foot behind the other and bend from the waist, acknowledging the “thanks” with a simple “you’re welcome”. Hearing the gratitude in their closed lips and open arms, I silently make thanks of my own to my parents for enticing me to attend my first piano lesson, and buying me the piano which has become my favorite listener. I awake from the daydream to find myself in my own living room, sitting at my own piano, with an audience of stars listening and twinkling outside the bay windows.

Some Days You're the Bug, Some Days You're the Windshield

Beginning Thursday, June 26, 2008 through Monday July 1, I house/dog-sat for a co-worker at Updata (her name is Karen). The house was about 20 min North of Leesburg, in a fairly new neighborhood, of mostly farmland - very flat, large empty spaces, etc. Karen has three bichon-frises. I took on this responsibility knowing that I'd be alone in this house for 3 nights and 4 days, and that I wouldn't be seeing much of my friends or family in that time.

Thursday morning, I got up, packed a bag and went to work. When I got to work, I realized that I'd forgotten my cell phone charger at home, so decided that I would drive home to get it before heading out to Karen's house that night. I left work that evening at the usual time, met Dad for a sushi dinner, drove back home to get my charger and then began the hour and a half trip out to Karen and Chris' house. I fed the dogs, got myself acquainted with the house, put on my pajamas, locked up for the night, and got comfy. Then, I called Karen to let her know that everything was good and to tell her the progress that the workers had made on the deck they are installing behind their house. Karen asked me to take some dog treats outside, just to make sure that the dogs were using their dog-door, which opened onto the brand new decking. The dogs had never used this deck before, so Karen was unsure whether they would know how and be comfortable with using it. So, I slipped on my flip-flops and walked out the garage door with some treats, around the side of the house and onto the new decking. I tried to get the dogs to come out through the dog door, but they were scared. I pulled one of the dogs through the door, by force, to show him that it was safe. After that, he was gleefully running in and out of the door, as if to show off his new "trick". The other two remained inside. I walked back around the house, got one of the dogs from inside, and tried to show her from outside that she could get back in through the dog door. She got back in, and stayed there. I stayed outside.

I had locked the garage door behind me when I walked outside with the treats. Now, I was locked out, in my pajamas, at 10:30 at night, in a place I didn't know, with no cell phone, no car keys,...nothing. I looked around the neighborhood for a house with lights on, but there was none. So I walked to the nearest neighbor's house and knocked on the front door. I woke up Nazima and her two sons, who were 14 and 11 years old. I told them the situation, and asked if they had Karen's cell phone number, but the people in this neighborhood are not friendly with each other. They didn't have Karen's phone number. Nazima sent the boys back to the house with me to look for an open door or window, and to see if her 11-year old could fit through the dog-door at Karen's house. He didn't, and there were no open doors or windows. We walked back to Nazima's house, where I used the phone to call a locksmith. The locksmith told me he'd be there in 25 minutes. Three hours later, he was still not there, and as we found out later, had no intention of ever coming. Dad came out and waited with me for the locksmith, and finally, when we had given up, he took me back to his house to sleep for what was left of the night, so that we could handle this in the morning.

The following morning, I got up and called my office. Heather (the receptionist) gave me Karen's cell phone number. I told Heather I wouldn't be in on time, and explained the situation, and then I called Karen. I told Karen what had happened, and had her call her dog-walker, who had a key, thinking she could let me back into the house. The dog-walker did not answer the phone. Plan B: Karen called her friend Stacy, who had a spare house key, but was on vacation. Stacy's mother was staying at her house, and would give me the key if I stopped by. Dad drove me out to Stacy's house, where her mother, Dory, gave me the spare key, following which Dad drove me back to Karen's house and I was able to get into the house. By this time, it was nearly 12:30pm. Dad had missed his morning appointments to help me, and I was very late for work.

I showered, got dressed, met the dog-walker, who showed up at about 1:00. I got to work by 2, to lots of laughter from those who hadn't needed my help that day, and lots of annoyance from those who had. I will never live this one down at the office nor with my dad, who had been my life-saver once again.

Some first night, huh? The rest of the weekend was relatively less eventful, and went much smoother.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Music & Lyrics

Here are some lyrics that I'm working on putting some music to. I wrote this a little over a year ago, but the music is just starting to come now. Maybe by the end of this summer, I'll be able to post the whole thing, music and lyrics.

This one's called
"Where did the nothingness go?"

Years and years,
meaningless chit-chat over coffee and cake
It meant so much, even though it was nothing
It gave us hope, companionship, made us think we were "normal" kids
Since we had nothing real to say.

There is too much to say
We keep it bottled up because
If it is audible, it will be real.
Things we never wanted to see,
didn't expect, or maybe we did.

She was just 18.
Went off to college with big dreams
Found alcohol, drugs to fill her empty, lonely heart
Jumped off a bridge when they weren't killing her fast enough.

There is too much to say
We keep it in because
Once we speak it, it will be real.
Things we never wanted to see,
didn't expect, or maybe we did.

After 30 years of marriage,
2 children born and raised,
3 houses made homes, and they can't go on.
They separate, a family torn apart.

Father moves away,
Son avoids it all
Mother is angry, hates a man she's claimed to love for so long
Daughter is broken, unhappy, alone.

There is too much to say
We keep it all inside
We don't want it to be real.
Things we never wanted to see,
didn't expect, or maybe we did.

We wake up, another day, go to work, go to class, go back to bed.
Someone else had different thoughts for this day, has been scheming.
Thinks by hurting someone else, he can hurt less himself.
But, it's not a "hot potato" game.
Pain is a parasite that spreads, grows, consumes.

There is too much to say
We keep it within ourselves,
to hold back reality, to stop the truth from being true.
Things we never wanted to see,
didn't expect, or maybe we did.

Where did the nothingness go?

Monday, June 30, 2008

df. Sister (n.)


As fraternity (sorority) women, we use this word often without truly understanding its meaning. It's like saying "I love you" now a days. You may as well say "I cheese sandwich you," since it contains about as much meaning as the word "love" does considering how lightly and free of care people tend to throw around the word. Having no sisters by birth myself, I joined the "sisterhood" knowing very little about what to expect. I guess I assumed that since I was joining as an "adult," or almost an adult, at least, there would be less "sibling rivalry" to endure than I experienced during my childhood with an older brother. I was wrong.

It's truly amazing. When I was little, Stephen and I used to fight about everything. It became the only way we knew how to communicate with one another. "I call the front seat!", "No! I want to hold the remote!", "I'm older, so I have seniority and I get to pick first." These are all lines that were used interspersed with flailing arms and legs throwing punches and kicks in an effort to get the other to "Stop touching me!" Even now, when we've matured and learned to interact with one another in a civil manner, that old habit is revived occasionally. Maybe one day we will laugh about all the stupid arguments, fights, and pulling of hair that occurred. For now, we're still in the exit-stage.

I never had a sister before I joined Delta Gamma. So what did I expect? I expected less abusive behavior, less malice, fewer irrational arguments, and less rivalry than I'd had as a child with an older, somewhat rough boy as my only sibling. What did I get? Something very different than what I expected. Sure, we're not tearing each others' hair out, nor are we yelling at each other nor are we throwing punches. It's like I've said before: girls fight differently. We scheme, we gossip, we spread rumors that can ruin our sisters' reputations for college careers and beyond. We are "adults". Yet, we still have rivalry. We love each other, yet our closeness sometimes serves as the tipping point to push us over the edge and lash out at one another.

One of the terrible and great things about a family is that no matter what you do or have had done to you to or by a member of your family, they must love you and you them. You are stuck with them forever, and in good or bad times, they will be with you, even should the sight of them make you physically sick. Doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? This is one of those concepts to which I have some opposition. Some people I know would disagree with this brief description of how a family should treat its members and what the dynamics within a family should be like. I have heard people denounce their families and run away, never to speak to certain family members again. It is devastating to watch. Like demons in The Golden Compass, being torn from their children, it is a bond which should never be broken, yet some people find breaking that bond an attractive course of action. To me, one's family holds the key to one's soul.

How does this translate into how I treat my fraternity "family" and how I view my "sisters"? Delta Gamma is a beautiful organization, with "stellar" (to use a sister's favorite word) goals and ideals. The women who are selected to join this organization make it or break it. Upon pledging, these women choose to become a family. Not the kind of family that comes from birth, but a new kind of family; one that brings all sorts of backgrounds and life experiences together to learn from one another and love one another with that same sort of infinite determinacy as we do our blood relatives. We become a family for life when we are initiated into the fraternity, and make a choice to take on the responsibilities of a real family network. Because we have chosen this, it should not be an obligation, but rather a desire to be with one another and love one another as sisters.

Why do I think this ideal image of what our sisterhood should be doesn't always pan out? Part of it, I believe, is our sheer numbers. There are so many of us that cliques tend to emerge. A small rivalry between two sisters does not end there; it spreads like wildfire through the chapter until we have two groups of sisters. You're either for her or against her. If you choose to abstain, you are alienated and participate less in "family" activities in an attempt to avoid dealing with the conflict and being forced to pick a "team". Perhaps the way to break this tendency is to do some educating within the chapter concerning conflict resolution; to build up womens' self-esteem and assertiveness so that they can resolve problems on a one-to-one basis calmly and rationally, without involving the whole chapter in a brutal whisper war that goes on for months.

Anyone know a good conflict resolution specialist?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"You Say You Want a Revolution"

So, we’re not content with our leadership. Now what? How does a group of women that is struggling to keep it together when corruption has seeped into their ranks change things? How do they expel the corruption? There are several different approaches one can take in this situation.

1) Violence: By considering violence, the group is acting on their emotions, which can, in some cases, be useful. These women are angry. And when women get angry, they can be really mean. As Eric Idle so delicately put, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will make me go in a corner and cry by myself for hours."

Beginning in elementary schools, girls fight the nastiest of battles; seek revenge on their classmates. When boys have conflict, there is almost always a physical fight involved. A punch or two is thrown, and the conflict is resolved. They expel all their emotional energy in that punch, and the blood flows back into their more reasonable parts, allowing them to solve the problem. When girls have conflict, they do more damage. Little girls are taught from a young age not to fight. It is “un-lady-like” to hit another person. Girls, like boys, by human nature, seek ways to get revenge. Instead of fighting it out physically, girls taunt one another. They spread rumors; they gossip; they do everything in their power to tear down the self-esteem of their opposition. Unfortunately, this form of fighting often does not lead to a resolution of the conflict. These battles between girls, and eventually between women can last indefinitely, and are often the cause of long-term insecurities.

This trend continues throughout womens’ lives. Once boys reach a certain age, they realize the stupidity and barbarity of participating in physical fights to resolve conflicts (with occasional exceptions). Girls, however, fight their verbal battles behind closed doors. Girls can get silent revenge. So, they continue to get away with it, and in some cases, never grow up and out of this immature method of conflict resolution.

Looking at how fighting is imposed on different gendered children, how can this exposure be used to model our women's organization revolution?

Pros of violence:

· Emotion is put aside after violence, and reason takes over.

· Conflicts are resolved more quickly.

· Lessons are more likely to be learned if there is an incentive as strong as physical pain.

Cons of violence:

· Risky - could cause short/long-term physical harm

- Inexperience within the group in question - these are women, who have little to no experience using physical violence to solve problems.

- Immature

- Frowned upon by society in general, and by the group as a whole

- Will most likely lead to further conflict

2) Non-violence: Non-violence is, in my opinion, the best way to make changes and keep the organization from reverting back to its old ways. With M.K. Gandhi as our role model, we can solve the problem by communicating effectively while maintaining our poise and respect. This takes great patience and open minds, but as history has shown us, it works.

Pros of Non-violence:

- No one gets physically hurt

- Has great potential to solve the problem, if carried out

Cons of Non-violence:

- Time - can take lots of it

Ok, maybe this is not a situation that requires such extreme acts as Gandhi performed during his revolt. We need not fast for months, give up sex, or wear nothing but a loincloth in order to make a statement. But there is something to be learned from his extremist ways. The question now becomes: What would be "extreme" enough for us?

The group generally is very "nice". As women who have pledged to the same values and ideals that the founders established back in 1873, we see commonalities and can relate to one another, if in no other way. We are pleasant to one another in public, and mostly pleasant to one another in private. We have weekly meetings to discuss the general day-to-day happenings of our group and inform members of upcoming opportunities to get involved.

The group has a set of by-laws. These by-laws, although distributed, have not been read by most members. The by-laws tell us what is expected of each member and what each member can expect of her elected officers. The by-laws set the rules for the chapter's governance. Unfortunately, since so many are uneducated about these by-laws, members do not know what to expect from their officers, and tend to simply "go with the flow" and let things happen that should not.

Here's my "game plan":

  1. The first step to this non-violent conflict resolution is education. Members must be educated of the by-laws and fully understand their place within the group, as well as what to expect from the other members of the group.
  2. Should a member experience/witness misconduct according to the by-laws, she should act accordingly by:
    1. Bringing the misconduct to the attention of the officers and the entirety of the chapter.
    2. Requesting either appropriate punishment and/or change to ensure that such misconduct does not recur.
  3. Should officers and/or members at large not respond appropriately to these actions, any of the following can and should be permitted as acts of protest:
    1. Walking out of meeting
    2. Contacting chapter advisor for additional aid
    3. Attending EVC/Honor Board/CMT meetings to express discontent
    4. Any other means of non-violent protest of misconduct
It is a member's responsibility to stand up for what she believes and to be actively involved in the selective group of which she is a member. This is not "just a club". This is an organization with a governmental system. We would not let our country's national elected officials take advantage of us as a collective unit, or allow corruption to remain in the highest, most powerful branches of our government. We live in the greatest, free-est, most powerful nation in the world; we have a democratic government that allows the average layman to speak his mind and contribute to how our nation is run. We have freed ourselves from monarchical rule in the past through revolution. We can even impeach our president, should we find it necessary. Why don't we acknowledge this organization and take part in it's governance with such fervor?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge." -J. Wales, founder of Wikipedia

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The US Election, from a British's Woman's Perspective

**To see the full article, visit:**

This Was Supposed To Be Fun
Why have you stopped my election from being excellent

Facts are great, but after a while they stop being fun. Say, you’re enjoying a game of Swingball with your best friend, who is a vet. Suddenly, someone rises from a nearby deckchair, and informs you that over the course of his career, he has negligently caused the death of over two hundred Springer Spaniels. An unwelcome distraction, for sure - but then, if you’re easily distracted you have no place playing Swingball. Far worse, would be the sense the you’re playing a kind of rotary tennis against a man who doesn’t know his way around a Spaniel. A stupid, irrelevant fact has just ruined the game.

The less basic and rudimentary a fact, the less fun it is. Take my imaginary friend, the vet. That simple fact is lovely : he has probably seen a cow’s fanny, and I can draw pictures of him squinting at a giraffe and saying "I’m Sorry, It Has Got Very High Mumps". The more information I find out about his job <> every fact I learn takes me into a world that’s more complicated than I care to learn about. The fact that it’s important to him just makes it annoying.

With this in mind, here are the facts that I know about the American Election, in ascending order of whatever, get over it, Jesus.

1. A black man and a woman are going to have a fight, and as far as everyone can tell, it looks like they mean it.

Hillary Clinton is a woman! That means she has cables running to her big, tanned nipples that are capable of firing out milk. If you don’t think the idea of someone running the world with lasers of milk pissing from their chest isn’t awesome, then I honestly don’t know what to say to you. Legislation brought in for approval would be dabbled with an approving squirt, and evil budgets would be obliterated by a machine gun burst of white staccato squirts.

This is all old and stupid hats to us Brits though, we had Maggie Thatcher. We remember when she took the free milk from those poor schoolkids, and poured it into a mechanised tit that she used to rush through the anti-union legislation of the eighties. But even in her most unpopular moments, we - the British People - would never have asked her to fight a black man. Who can imagine the special powers that each candidate could draw from their respective stereotypes during the final rounds? It’s an excellent and probably racist scene to imagine. It’d probably climax with Barack channelling the powers of the Omegahedron through his Burundi Wand, while Hillary straddles his neck and tries to strangle him with her fallopians.

At this level of understanding, anything is possible, and the American Election is possibly the second most exciting thing in the world, after walking into a zero-gravity chamber full of St Bernard puppies, all rotating on a different axis.

2. Another man says he wants to fight the winner.

This is the first fact you’ll encounter in the American Election that is boring. His name is so unremarkable that you might as well simply let your mouth hang open instead of saying it. I can’t think what he looks like, I don’t know anything he’s said, and if you want me to feel something about him then you’re barking up the wrong tree. Everything’s already 40% less fantastic.

3. Super-delegates are being used to reinstate the smoky back rooms and hidden decision-making processes that gave the Democratic party a bad name in the past.

That clattering sound was the pan lid of my interest. First, it made me think "Typical! Politicians!" which is the single least thrilling thing a person can think. Secondly, they’re called super-delegates, but their only superpower appears to be the ability to vote for who they like, and even we’ve got that. Finally, though, it’s rubbish because it ruins the first, excellent point. If you’re going to fix the fight, do it in a cartoon fashion. Put horseshoes in boxing gloves, use suits of armour and massive magnets. Not in some pervasive, creeping and utterly reliable way that would make the public feel a bit shocked if they didn’t already assume that everything was already fundamentally broken.

4. The winner gets to rule the world.

Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realise I was watching Highlander. If you’re going to take the piss, I won’t bother.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Somewhere, Beyond Optimism and Pessimism

One day, someone showed me a glass of water that was half full. And he said, "Is it half full or half empty?" So I drank the water. No more problem. ~Alexander Jodorowsky

It seems that French guys have all the answers. Here we have a classic philosophical problem: Either way we answer the question, we are, in a sense, correct. So, how do we know that our answer is the best one? Is it more realistic/practical to be an optimist or a pessimist?

Let's look at both sides of the story here. Those who are perpetual optimists have sparkles in their eyes and are enthusiastic about life and everything in it. They brighten others' days and inspire people who are perhaps not so consistent with their optimistic habits. Optimists can find the bright side of any situation, regardless of how much that situation really sucks at the time. They believe that only good things are to come in the future, because they think they've got no control over it, and it doesn't make sense for their moods to consider the negative possibilities of life. Maybe they even believe that they do have control over their future, so by thinking positively about it, they are molding it to be positive. These people have a tendency to be disappointed when things don't work out, yet find something good about those situations that don't work out, or attribute it to the "grand plan" that God has for us.

Pessimists, on the other hand, have a firm grasp of every negative possibility, and assume those possibilities to become realities. This way, when something good happens, they can be happy (momentarily), and not disappointed, since they had no expectations for good things to come. However, they also live in what some might consider "constant drear", always thinking negatively and allowing that contagious negativity to spread (as it does) like wildfire through friends, family and coworkers.

It is true: bad things happen. People get disappointed if they're expecting something good and it never comes. People are disheartened by terrible events that they hadn't even considered were possibilities in their and others' futures. Let's face it - life can be pretty friggin' depressing.
However, that doesn't mean that the best way to live is in a state of constant depression. On the contrary, it seems better to me, at least, to live with a sense of optimism always, but also to prepare oneself for the worst and consider all the options with an open mind.

Leave your expectations at the door, and drink the whole glass of water. Now, don't you feel well-hydrated and amazed by the great and terrible opportunities that this world affords us?

The Cheshire Cat Proves Insightful

Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked.
"Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat.
"I don't know," Alice answered.
"Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."
~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Today I got to asking myself some questions:

What do I want to do with my life?

What career path is the best choice for me?

What do I want to accomplish? Who can I help? How can I help them?

Then, I remembered this chronicle from Alice in Wonderland. Since I do not know the answers to any of these questions, it really doesn’t matter that this point which road I take. Perhaps following my intuition and living in the now is the path to travel down. Take each day as it comes and make the best with whatever hand I’m dealt.

I recently read an article about following one’s own intuition, which in turn led me to a book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It’s amazing how accurate our own human intuition can really be.

A Word of Advice from Steve Jobs

This is the text of the Stanford University Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

It's Almost Friday

When I was in high school, every weekday morning, Mom would open my bedroom door at 5:30 to wake me up for school. Mom, a morning person, seemed to be filled with joy at doing what I perceived at the time as a horrible thing to me. She’d bound into my room (occasionally singing), and say “Good morning, Jen! It’s a beautiful day [even if it wasn’t]!” I usually groaned, rolled over in bed and asked her to turn the light out and shut the door. Cheerfully as ever, she chose to hear “Shut the door” instead as the French, similar-sounding phrase, “Je t’adore”, which means “I love you”. She’d always reply either, “I love you too, sweetie,” or occasionally “Moi aussi.”

When I’d finally made it out of bed, and to the breakfast table, she had lovingly made me soft-boiled eggs and toast daily, which I never truly appreciated until I got to college, to find that a granola bar on my way to class was my most realistic and best option for breakfast. Junior year in high school, much to my dismay, Mom delighted in taking my photograph each morning as I ate my eggs, so as to document my growth over the year. I sat at that table every morning, questioning my very existence, asking myself why I was putting myself through another day of stress at school, band practice, running several miles on a treadmill to keep in shape, and beginning my homework which would keep me up until 2 a.m. only to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to do it all again. Mom saw my daily look of discouragement and lack of energy to go on, and on a daily basis would say, “Cheer up! It’s almost Friday!”

At the time, I found this incredibly annoying, since on Monday morning, Friday was looking pretty distant. Looking back on it now, I realize what an incredible person Mom is for having put me through that “torture”. Mom can find the silver lining on any cloud. She has a gift for optimism, when it’s needed. And she has a desire to help those in need, whenever and wherever they are in life. I think about that phrase often, especially as I begin a work-week or a school-week that I know will be filled with more work or studying than usual, tests, papers, etc. “It’s almost Friday,” I tell myself. Even on Monday morning, the phrase makes me feel like I can make it through the week. It reminds me of how quickly the last fun (and thus, fast) week went by, and that if I can keep my spirits high, this week will be just as quick. After all, there is the same amount of time in this week as there was in the last; the same number of hours, minutes, seconds. How I choose to spend each of those moments will determine for me how good I feel by the time it actually is Friday.

Back in high school, I couldn’t see past my own disheartenment. Now, I understand. So, thanks, Mom. Lesson learned. It’s almost Friday.

An Excerpt From My Journal (Tuesday, August 7, 2007)

"I've dealt with and adjusted to living in a "broken home," as it is just Mom and I in Clifton now. I've gotten used to seeing Dad only occasionally, even when I'm home from school, and to being the one who's supposed to worry about him when I haven't heard from him in a couple of days, or he's feeling sad. I've seen a lot of bitterness, a lot of hope, and a lot of confusion. I've seen negative thoughts and feelings change into positive ones. I've seen good days and bad.

I continue to listen and learn from everyone and everything around me.

At the end of the day, I still have a lot of faith in people. I trust that everything will work itself out, that the stove will be fixed (eventually), that my family's heart will be fixed (eventually), that friendships will hold on and support themselves, that baseball games will still be played on even the hottest days of the summer, that rock & roll and jazz will always have fans, that one bad day does not determine a lifetime, that my piano will forever be my solace, that the weather doesn't have to determine my mood, that the world will keep turning, and that happiness lies within."

We're Friends for a Reason...

On the night of Saturday, August 11, 2007, I received the following in an email (from someone who will remain nameless to the readers of this Blog):

"I also like raspberries and blackberries and how they can be just a little bitter and sour. I love old houses, glass doorknobs, brick fireplaces and cast tin ceilings. I love old railroad tracks with daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace growing in between, the way paint peels off old buildings, the smell of the coming rain, the sound of locusts (I call them meemer bugs because of the sound, though they apparently sound different in some places) on summer evenings, crisp, clean sheets and the constant buzzing of a ceiling fan. A freshly mown lawn is one of the most beautiful pieces of artwork, the pounding of rain on a tin roof a symphony and the intermittent glowing of lightning bugs is like watching fireworks. I love the way a dog is always happy to see a person, the way a cat doesn’t care and the way that children will say anything. I love the crackling of a fire, the rustling of leaves in the wind and the constant chirping of birds. I think that squirrels have got to be the most graceful wild creatures, that deer are actually huge rodents and that raccoons are much smarter than people think. I love the secrecy of a wink, the way it can mean anything and everything, depending on the person and the time. I love the feeling after a first kiss, the way mud squelches between my toes and washing my feet off really fast after playing in mud. I love the warmth of a fresh towel, the safety of bedtime covers, the hunt for the right piece in a jigsaw puzzle and the sparkle in the eye of someone who loves me. I love a quick double-play, holing out from 90 yards, and a long touchdown run. I love clean and simple fonts, scribbly handwriting and flowery signatures. I love the smell of boxwood in the Williamsburg humidity, honeysuckle during the musty evening and flowers in the morning. Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies are God’s gift to moms and moms’ gift to children. I love it when people cry and laugh and sigh when I’ve made them happy. I love the sound of church bells, or any large cast-bronze bell. I love staying up late, waking up later and reading until I drop. I love grandfather clocks, watches of all kinds and sealing wax. I truly enjoy singing along to songs, especially when they are songs that most people wouldn’t think I knew or that involve talent, which I haven’t had since my voice changed. A game of cards is better than a video game (the other team can actually think), a book is better than television (it doesn’t have commercials), and listening is better than talking. Hugging is almost as good as cuddling, which isn’t as good as kissing, and there are many types of kissing; I love the kisses that talk without words. I love the feeling of someone I love falling asleep in my arms, I love stroking their hair, I love carrying them to bed and I love kissing them goodnight, whether girlfriend, wife or daughter (not that I’d know on the last two). I love old poems, new gadgets and ancient buildings. I love driving with my arm out the window, playing in the rain until I’m soaked and holding hands with a sweetheart. I love candles. I love songs. I love flowers. I like jazz in the morning, big band at lunch, indie/emo/rock in the afternoon and classical in the evening. I love pictures of places I’ve been almost as much as pictures of places I want to go. I love small ears, big grey/blue/green eyes, soft lips and a hand that fits in mine. The perfect beginning to a day is a crisp, clear morning with a cup of coffee, warm apple strudel, a bowl of fresh, cool strawberries and cut bananas, a glass of milk and a rocking chair on the porch. The perfect end to a day is the same, except the milk is wine and the rocking chair is a wingback by the fireplace. And I love goodnights, because they include – or should – good hugs, warm eyes and the second best type of kiss."